Lost Tiltyard Towers of Hampton Court Palace discovered
Archaeologists at Hampton Court Palace have uncovered the remains of one of the palace’s famous five lost Tiltyard Towers for the first time. Built at the height of King Henry VIII’s reign in the 1530s, these important buildings – amongst the earliest banqueting houses built in this country - once stood within the walled Tiltyard, where the Tudor monarchs held jousts and tournaments. The towers were largely demolished by the 1680s, but glimpses of them appearing in 16th and 17th century images of the palace have tantalised historians ever since.
The precise location of the mysterious towers eluded archaeologists for decades, until the green-glazed tile floor of one was unearthed last week during some maintenance work taking place in preparation for the opening of the palace’s new ‘Magic Garden.’ Inspired by the myths and legends of the Tudor tournament, the garden features five large-scale recreations of the Tiltyard Towers – now confirmed to sit right next-door to the originals! It is hoped that the discovery of one tower will enable palace curators to finally pinpoint the locations of the others.
The five towers were long thought to have been viewing galleries for the court to observe the tournaments staged in the Tiltyard below on major feast days and anniversaries. The first recorded tournament at Hampton Court took place in 1557, when Queen Mary I held a ‘grand spectacle of jousting’ to celebrate Christmas. Her sister, Queen Elizabeth I, continued the tradition, occasionally staging her accession day tournaments at Hampton Court. On a day to day basis, the Tiltyard was probably used to train young men of the court in warfare.
The towers actually slightly predate the Tiltyard, which was laid out in 1537, perhaps to mark the birth of Henry VIII’s son and heir, Prince Edward. They were luxurious banqueting houses, built for entertaining away from the prying eyes of the court, intricately decorated and grand. Several gilded lead leaves were unearthed from the recently rediscovered remains of the building, a testament to the rich interior décor within.
After tournaments gradually fell out of fashion, the towers became multi-purpose storage spaces – housing everything from the King’s pigeons to two of Queen Henrietta Maria’s priests, in quarantine after a plague outbreak! Only one tower survived after the buildings fell into disrepair – and it remains standing, albeit heavily altered, today, in the palace’s aptly named ‘Tiltyard Café.’
Daniel Jackson, Historic Buildings Curator, Hampton Court Palace, said:
‘We’re extremely excited to have uncovered the remains of one of the lost tiltyard towers – a mystery that’s been puzzling our predecessors for decades. Being able to plot the location of this tower will open up new avenues of research, perhaps finally enabling us to locate the others, and to better understand these exceptionally significant buildings, which we think were some of the earliest banqueting houses of their type built in this country.’
Notes to editors
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Historic Royal Palaces is the independent charity that looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, the Banqueting House, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace and Hillsborough Castle. We help everyone explore the story of how monarchs and people have shaped society, in some of the greatest palaces ever built. We raise all our own funds and depend on the support of our visitors, members, donors, sponsors and volunteers. These palaces are owned by The Queen on behalf of the nation, and we manage them for the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (with the exception of Hillsborough Castle). Registered charity number 1068852. www.hrp.org.uk